3 Case Studies - 3 Reasons to use Workplace Mediation



Just google ‘benefits of mediation’ and you’ll find numerous pages and could probably compile a list of 20-30 individual benefits. But these lists usually don’t show the real life stories behind the words on the page. So for this blog I thought I’d go back to basics. I’ve picked 3 of the core benefits of mediation but will show you what it means in terms of people’s lives by using 3 case studies from my mediation cases. Names and situations have been adjusted to protect confidentiality but apart from that it’s all real!

Fast, efficient, cost-effective

One of the first cases I ever mediated was a perfect illustration of how a resolution to a long standing issue can be achieved quickly and at low cost. Jason and Kylie worked in a small team in a large multinational. Jason was a quiet, diligent team member who just got on with things so it was a surprise to his manager when Jason told him he wanted to raise a grievance against Kylie for bullying. Jason produced a printout from a spreadsheet which documented instances of alleged bullying over a 2 year period. Jason had put up with the pain and stress all this time without saying anything but a recent incident had been the final straw. The manager consulted HR and it was clear that whilst the individual incidents were in themselves minor, taken together Jason could have a point. But after having a word with Jason and Kylie the HR manager recognised the situation was not clear cut and suspected there was significant misunderstanding. The case was referred to me as an internal mediator and both agreed to mediate despite initial reluctance. The mediation went very well. Kylie was surprised and upset to hear how her behaviour had affected Jason. She was a ‘big personality’ and had not realised her team banter had impacted so negatively on him. It was clear that different workstyles and personalities had led to misunderstanding and miscommunication, plus there was confusion caused by job overlap. It was a great relief for Jason to hear Kylie’s response and they were able to agree a positive way forward. Jason was able to walk away released from the stress of 2 years of pain and hurt.

Once Jason had raised the issue with his manager we were able to get the mediation up and running within days – helped by the fact that I was an internal mediator at the time. If Jason had continued down the grievance route it would have taken weeks – and given the issues at stake would probably not have resolved the issue. And the cost? Simply the time of those involved, which was simply a day each for Jason, Kylie and myself plus some pre-meetings. So we got a great result in a fast, efficient and cost-effective way.

Resolves underlying issues

A key problem with the formal grievance process is that it is geared toward establishing right and wrong for something that happened in the past. It is not designed to address underlying issues which will mean a better relationship going forward. A good example of how mediation can achieve this is the case I mediated between Meghan and Harry. Meghan was Harry’s manager and the two of them had struggled from the start of their 18 month work relationship. It had got to the point where Harry wanted HR to address Meghan’s bullying style and Meghan wanted to performance manage Harry because of his insubordinate attitude. They were both strong performers so the company didn’t want to lose either of them. It was clear on first meeting them how different they were. Meghan was very task focused, a hard worker who expected quality output and had little time for the softer side of management. Harry was also a hard worker but was particularly sensitive to how he was managed. He needed encouragement, acknowledgement and consideration. The mediation showed that neither were getting what they needed from the other and we spent time exploring what those needs were and how they could adjust their interactions to enable them to meet those needs as far as possible. This meant some significant changes to their communication approach but despite being sceptical they wanted to make it work so were prepared to give it a try.

Meghan and Harry could have used the grievance / performance management route which would probably not have got anywhere other than one of them moving or leaving. Instead, mediation enabled them to understand what was going on for the other person beneath the surface. Through listening and acknowledging the other’s perspective they were able to find a way forward which enabled a better working relationship and a positive outcome for them and the company.

Outcomes determined by the participants

A key benefit of mediation over formal processes is that the people involved are in control of the outcome of the process. In a grievance control is handed over to the investigating manager and their decision will determine the result. As in this case with Mel and Sue mediation gives the people involved the chance to work out something which works for them both – and for the company as well. Mel and Sue were employed by a medium sized firm headquartered in Europe with a small sales office in the UK. Sue had been with the company for many years and had set up all the sales support systems and processes for the UK office. Due to growth Mel had joined recently bringing extra resource and fresh ideas to sales support. After a promising start cracks had started to show and Sue and Mel’s manager (based overseas) started to receive moans from Sue complaining that Mel wasn’t following process. The manager spoke to them both but without effect and the flashpoint came with a stand up row in the office. After various attempts to resolve it the manager called the company’s employment lawyers and asked them to ‘arrange for one of them to leave’. Fortunately the law firm recognised the situation could be helped with mediation and called me in. The mediation allowed Mel and Sue to talk properly about their working relationship which they were both finding very difficult. They had a clear steer from the management that their relationship was causing problems for the UK sales team and if the two did not resolve it management would need to step in.

Through the mediation Mel and Sue were able to agree how they would work together and even found some areas where they had common ideas about how to improve the office. So they were able to determine their own outcome rather than having the company decide for them.

Time and time again in the cases I am involved with the benefits of mediation are demonstrated. I’ve offered examples here of some of the benefits but there are many others – maybe something for a future blog!